Bird of The Week: Elegant Trogon
Scientific Name: Trogon elegans
Population: 200,000 (~ 500 in the U.S.)
Habitat: Arid and semiarid forests, including those along streams.
The Elegant Trogon brings a touch of the tropics to its riparian haunts in the southwestern United States, where it is sought by many birders. Like the Resplendent Quetzal, the male Elegant Trogon is a stunning combination of iridescent green and vivid red. Its long, square-tipped tail shimmers with green and copper shades. The female is a more subdued combination of brown and white, with a diagnostic white spot behind the eye. Her red undertail coverts provide her only a spot of color. The word “trogon” is an especially apt description for this charismatic bird.
The word trogon comes from the Greek word for “gnawer” or “nibbler,” and refers to this bird’s stout, serrated bill, which it uses to pluck fruit and snag large insects, lizards, and other live prey. This bird can also use its sturdy bill to clear away soft, rotted wood around potential nest hole sites.
Barely Crossing the Border
The vast majority of Elegant Trogons live in Mexico and parts of Central America. However, this spectacular species does edge into southeastern Arizona and, in small numbers, into far southwestern New Mexico. The Elegant has also turned up, very rarely, in South Texas.
In most of its range, the Elegant Trogon is a permanent resident, but U.S. nesters are an exception, moving south in the fall. One of the more adaptable members of its family, this species is found in a wide variety of habitats at both high and low altitudes. Some authorities regard birds found from Guatemala into Costa Rica as a separate species.
Five subspecies of Elegant Trogon are recognized, further divided into two groups distinguished by subtle differences in under tail pattern.
The “song” of the Elegant Trogon is a series of harsh croaking sounds, sometimes compared to a dog’s bark. This bird also gives chattering calls.
Feeding on the Wing
An omnivore, the Elegant Trogon dines on a variety of fruits, berries, and small animals. Large insects such as cicadas, katydids, moths, grasshoppers, and caterpillars make up the bulk of its diet during the nesting season. It will also sometimes prey upon small vertebrates such as lizards.
The Elegant Trogon is a “sit and wait” predator, spending much of its time perched quietly at mid-canopy level in a characteristic erect stance. It hunts by darting out from its perch to snag insects, or it hovers to pluck fruits.
The Elegant Trogon is monogamous, and birds often arrive at their nesting areas already paired off. An unpaired male will court a female by flicking his tail, inflating his colorful chest, and following the female from perch to perch while calling. He may also call from the entrance of a potential nest hole to entice the female to enter.
Like others in its family such as the Hispaniolan Trogon, the Elegant Trogon is a secondary cavity nester, often reusing an old Acorn Woodpecker or Northern Flicker nest hole. It may also enlarge a natural cavity in decayed wood. The nest tree is often located close to water. An especially desirable nest tree may have other “tenants” besides the trogon, including Whiskered Screech-Owl, Acorn Woodpecker, or Elf Owl.
Once mated, the female trogon lays three to four white eggs in a nest within the cavity, built from hay, straw, moss, wool, and feathers. Both male and female take turns incubating the eggs, which hatch after around three weeks. Both parent birds also feed the young, including for a period of time after they fledge.
Help for Trogons, and Beyond
The Elegant Trogon requires large trees for nest cavities, so habitat loss is an ongoing threat. Nesting pairs can be easily disturbed by over-intrusive humans. In recent years, trogon numbers in Arizona have plummeted due to ongoing severe drought.
ABC works with partners to “Bring Back the Birds” in a large-scale conservation strategy to help slow declines of birds that move between the U.S. and Latin America.
Source: American Bird Conservancy (abcbirds.org)